Overview of the Party Wall Act
As a Party Wall Surveyor, I am frequently asked “what is it”? Even some experienced surveyors can be forgiven for losing sight of the original intention of the legislation in the day-to-day operation of its provisions. In this article we are going back to basics to provide an overview of the base principals of the Party Wall Act etc. 1996.
The Party Wall bill as it was then called was brought before the House of Lords in January 1996. However, legislation regarding party walls, as least in respect of London, can be traced back to the London Rebuilding Act 1667 – more on this in a future article. The term ‘etc’ was added to the short title of the Act by the House of Lords to make it clear that the Act applies not just to walls or other structures in shared ownership, but also to excavation and construction within proximity to an adjoining owner’s building.
Rights under the Party Wall Act
Put broadly, the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the “Act”) confers rights on an owner which may not otherwise exist. The Act grants rights to the person(s) wanting to carry out building works which are specifically caught by the Act. It also provides important protection for the owners of neighbouring properties, who typically have no desire for such works to take place.
If you are a property owner planning to undertake work to a party structure it is very important that you follow the statutory provisions of the Act. The Courts take a very dim view in instances where an owner undertaking work fails to comply with the Act. The Courts have also confirmed that any dispute arising from work to a Party Wall should first be resolved by the provisions of the Party Wall Act before an owner resorts to legal action (Bridgland v Earlsmead Estates  EWHC B8 (TCC)). The Party Wall Act is therefore the primary legislation determining disputes on Party Wall related matters.
Party Wall Act Terminology
If one reads the Act, they will be greeted with terms such as “building owner” (BO) and “adjoining owner” (AO). The building owner is a term used for the person (or legal entity if the building is owned by a company) who is choosing to carry out the works that fall under the Act (the developer, if you so wish!) The adjoining owner will be either ‘adjoining’ or within a set distance of the developer’s proposed works, as set out above.
The Act itself is an enabling one and it is not a platform for an adjoining owner to prevent lawful works from being carried out. For example, if a building owner wanted to cut into a party wall to insert a beam to facilitate the reconfiguration of their property, then provided they follow the procedures set out within the Act, those works can be legally executed.
Protection for Adjoining Owners
However, it is not just there to allow certain works to be carried out to aid the developer and, as a neighbour, it is not all bad news. The adjoining owner is afforded a degree of protection in the event damages are caused pursuant to those works permissible by the Act. A developer is legally obliged to compensate a neighbour equal to the position they were in prior to the works taking place.
The appointed surveyors also have the jurisdiction to Award the timing and the manner of the works; this is key when sanctioning such works to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and to mitigate against potential damage. This isn’t always possible. In fact, some works that fall under the scope of this Act will be known to cause damage, but it does not mean that the developer does not have a legal right to execute said works.
It is common practice that the works which fall under the party wall umbrella will be subservient to the overall works and the extent of the proposed works should therefore be carefully considered by the surveyors. It is imperative that the appointed surveyors are suitably experienced and well versed in dealing with these matters.
Party Wall Act Overview
The Act itself extends throughout England and Wales and is a useful tool for both building owners and adjoining owners. In jurisdictions where similar legislation does not exist, when such a dispute arises either owner would have very limited options other than court proceedings. This can be very costly, incurring legal fees in the many 10s of thousands of pounds, often way out of proportion to the costs of the matter in dispute (see Roadrunner Properties Ltd v Dean  EWCA Civ 1816). Ask yourself, is it worth it?
This, I will leave with you.
Further Guidance when appointing a Party Wall Surveyor
If you want more information other than this overview of the Party Wall Act see our Party Wall Fact Sheet. You can also find further information in our Party Wall FAQs. This has been compiled this from questions we are often asked about the Act.
You can also find guidance on choosing a Party Wall Surveyor in our recent news article.
There is some further information in the government’s explanatory booklet on the Party Wall process.
If you are unsure how the Party Wall Act affects your property and want some advice please give us a call. If you would rather we called you instead, please fill in our Contact form and we will be in touch.
For advice direct from one of our Surveyors, please call our Enquiry line on 020 4534 3135
If you have any concerns regarding the Party Wall Act; or if you have received a notice from a neighbour and want advice on how best to protect your property, please contact :
DD : 020 7947 0951
M : 07340 027 614